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Nas Report Investigates the Growth of Computer Science ­ndergraduate Enrollments

By CRA Bulletin

November 8, 2017

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Since 2006, computer science departments in the U.S and Canada have experienced a surge in the number of undergraduate majors and course enrollments. The resulting strain on departmental and institutional resources has been significant for many departments, especially with respect to faculty hiring and overall workload. The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) has recently addressed the issue with the release a report titled "Assessing and Responding to the Growth of Computer Science Undergraduate Enrollments."

The NAS report discusses strategies central to managing enrollment and resources, and makes recommendations for departments and institutions. Its findings and recommendations provide much-needed guidelines on how institutions can allocate resources to meet growing student demand and to adequately support their computer science department in the increasingly central role of computer science in education and research. "The way colleges and universities respond to the surge in student interest and enrollment can have a significant impact on the health of the field," said Susanne Hambrusch, co-chair of the report's committee and a professor of computer science at Purdue University.  "While there is no one-size-fits-all answer, all institutions need to make strategic plans to address realistically and effectively the growing demand for the courses."

The report uses data from multiple sources, including CRA's recent Generation CS Report on undergraduate enrollments, CRA's Taulbee surveys, national degree completion statistics (IPEDS), the U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics, the HERI/CIRP Freshman Survey, and Burning Glass. Notable findings of the report include:

  • The number of bachelor's degrees rose by 74% between 2009 and 2015, compared to 16 percent growth across all fields. During the same time period, the number of Ph.D. degrees rose by 21%.
  • While in 2009 about 45% of the Ph.D.s accepted a job in industry, 57% did so in 2015. The percentage of new Ph.D.s accepting a tenure-track faculty position in the U.S. is below 20%. Hiring and retaining CS faculty is currently an acute challenge that limits institutions' abilities to respond to increasing enrollments.
  • The undergraduate growth has not been uniform across institutions. On average, institutions with very high research activity have experienced the greatest growth in degree production between 2009 and 2015 (by 113%).
  • While the percentage of women and underrepresented minorities completing bachelor's degrees has not seen increases in the last decade, there is evidence of increased representation among current majors and students interested in CS.


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